During my tenure on this planet, I’ve lost loved ones, close friends, and a few work mates. You grieve for them, you feel hollow for a time, and you experience deep sadness for sure. But when you lose your only sibling, your childhood buddy, you feel an immeasurable swath amputated from your being.
My brother, like a lot of us, wrestled with demons that kept rearing their heads. On the evening of March 29, he decided to deal them a final farewell. It arrived as a shockwave throughout the arctic and within our own family.
The phone rang at 8:17 PM that March evening. It was Sarah’s voice on the other end. She asked where I was. I said, “I am at home making dinner and Janna is at yoga.” She asked if I was sitting down. A sense of dread rose from the pit of my stomach. Something was wrong, terribly wrong.
In a nervous voice, I asked her, “Why? Why should I be sitting down?”
And then she said it: “Paul is dead, Brendan. I just found him an hour ago. He’s gone.”
A few weeks have passed since that night and the tightness – the bottomless pit in the abdomen – is receding. I do, though, get jolted back to all our moments together, all the laughs, all the heartache – an endless slide show of our life, clicking away in monochromatic memories – some fresh, some faded.
There was the time in Pond Inlet when Paul and I were horsing around and accidentally broke a beautiful Inuit carving of our Dad’s. Our parents were out for the evening. After assuming the worst consequences, Paul decided we must run away from home. If you know where Pond Inlet is, you know that this is completely asinine. We were but 7 and 8 years old, and through the tears of our pleading babysitter, we dressed for the -45-degree weather and ran from the house. We found a hiding place in a skinny, distorted culvert bridging a river not far from our home. There we stayed, shivering, teeth chattering, defiantly for what seemed like hours. Eventually, Fred Hunt – a family friend – found us and convinced us that we were not going to be skinned alive if we returned home. Fred deposited us at the front door, where Mom laboriously undressed us – we had six layers of socks and equal layers of underwear, as well as hats, snow pants, and every mitt we could get our hands into. My pockets were stuffed with burger bits – the crunchy canine food of the day (don’t ask).
Ours was a childhood filled with experiences that few have lived. We were raised in the high Canadian Arctic among the Inuit. My Dad, a school principal, and my Mom, a homemaker, loved the north. We couldn’t have had a better existence in an incredibly pristine environment alongside an ancient aboriginal culture. Both of us hacked out the local dialect from a very young age and drank tea everywhere we went. I used to make fun of Paul’s pronunciation, as he stuttered a bit.
When I devised Steeps the urban teahouse in Edmonton in 1999, I asked Paul to join me as a business partner. His computer contracts for the newly minted Territory of Nunavut were drying up, so he was looking for something else to occupy his time. He wanted to come south. So that September, with a fist full of cash, he joined me in Edmonton and became my business partner at Steeps. With this union of two siblings, we simply became known as “The Two Teaguys.”
Steeps grew and expanded – two brothers out to recreate what people thought they knew about tea. I was the front guy, the trainer, the dealmaker, and the speaker. Paul was the money guy, controlling finances and reining me in when I became a spendthrift. Simultaneously, behind the scenes, Paul and I were perfecting a pungent, captivatingly good masala chai. It would waft throughout our stores and patrons always wanted to try it. This little chai-brewing operation now goes under the moniker The Chai Company.
I brought this recipe back from a climbing excursion in the Himalayas a few years prior. Our base camp cook – Rosi Ali – was gracious enough to let me crawl into the cook tent and watch him prepare it. Paul and I, both foodies, set out to perfect and define the art of micro-brewing artisanal chai.
As I now try to put some closure on my brother’s short time here with us, I see a man who was an incredible humanitarian with a deep connection to people and the land. There was never a time in his life, nor mine, that I can recall him ever judging anyone. It was quite remarkable really; no matter who you were or what walk of life you came from, he took you at face value. This was Paul and it was evident in some of the people he hired to staff our teahouses and man the chai-brewing pots in our production facility. I would want to un-hire them right after he gave them a position, and sometimes it turned out that way. But other times, he called me aside and told me that the person he hired needed a job, needed to feed themselves, and needed a chance because they had no where else to turn for viable employment.
So now, our family has laid my brother’s ashes to rest in a serene sheltered cove on Gander Bay in Newfoundland – our childhood summer home.
I am going to miss him terribly – beyond what words I can muster here in this short post. We had tentative plans to farm tea together in the future, a venture that I am now slowly embarking on. With Paul missing from the equation, I am forging ahead alone, knowing that he will always be here with me and my family, with the countless friends in the high arctic, with his little girl Meeka who lives in Edmonton, and with every single, fresh, young Camellia sinensis sapling that I will tenderly place into the fertile earth of our Canadian soil.
Rest in peace, dearest Bro~